UTMB Training No 30 – Reverse HK Trail (from Shek O) on insanely hot day

I haven’t done a proper long run this training season yet. It was about the time to rectify this. But in this scorching heat it is not easy to survive out there. So I needed to pick some route that is not too exposed and has plenty of streams and water pipes to cool down. The reverse HK Trail sounded like a reasonable idea. It is harder in reverse as it goes uphill. But the advantage is that the exposed Dragon’s Back and the never ending catchwater are done and dusted quickly. And on the stages 6 to 1 there is lots of train cover and water (well except the stage 5…).

I recruited Stuart and Martijn for this run although Martijn still in post flu recovery did not plan to do the whole trail. Martijn had this awesome idea to stash on the way to Shek O a bottle of water at the end Dragon’s Back section for us to pick up once we get there (about an our and something later).

We started around 8am from Shek O and headed towards Big Way Bay in rather mellow pace. Surprisingly out of nowhere came a quick rain shower accompanied by some distant sounds of thunder. Interesting… All good though – the rain cooled the air, the clouds protected us from the morning sun and the thunderstorm never came anywhere close…

The Section 8 was quite OK. We climbed up the first hill in easy pace, then jogged the road bit and the contour till the Dragon’s Back climb. The pace was comfortable at that time but I was sure that totally unsustainable on such a hot day if we were to survive the distance…

The Dragon’s Back ridge passed very quickly in this reverse direction and after the quick downhill were down at the end of Section 8 where our bottle of water refill was awaiting us. We made a quick stop there, refilled our water container and went on forward on Section 7.

Those 700 hundred steps are definitely easier going down than up. It did not take long a we were on that dreaded catchwater. Martijn was setting a pace. It probably was not the best idea as doing 50km and following pace of someone planning to do roughly 20km may not end well, especially on super hot day :-) . Anyway, as long as the pace was comfy we jogged, when I felt it is time to slow down and hike I made the call. My only goal for the day was to finish the trail and that required serious discipline when it came to pacing and energy preservation.

We survived the catchwater and then quickly proceeded on Section 6 to reach the nice cold stream for first “ice bath” of the day. At the stream Martijn left us – taking a different route to Parkview. Me and Stuart spent some time cooling down. I also proceeded with Life Straw field test having a nice refreshing filtered drink from the stream. The water tasted surprisingly nice, totally unlike the tap water I tried with the same straw.

At this time it was getting very hot, our pace dropped but we kept on going. Speed was not important today. Soon we were on the concrete road at Tai Tam reservoirs. The long climb up to to Quarry Gap was on. Good thing is that most of that road is covered by trees and there are few water pipes along the road. It was not difficult to keep our heads cool and my “head shower” water bottle always full.

At the Quarry gap we took a short break – I needed to clean the debris from my shoes and short break with proper head shower at the bathroom before Butler and Jardines Lookout could not hurt.

The Section 5 was always going to be critical. Except the first part of Mt Butler climb the whole section is exposed and there is no water around to cool down with. I took Butler easy letting Stuart to go ahead. We took it easy down and towards Jardines hoping that the big cloud casting nice shadow over Jardines Lookout would remain there while we are climbing. It did not. The climb was exposed and hot like hell… I realized I made a mistake not mixing another bottle of VFUEL before starting this section. I was hot and running low on energy. It was quite a struggle up the Jardines Lookout. Knowing that there is a supermarket with cold drinks on the other side of the hill helped a lot though. I made it up eventually and started easy jog down towards Parkview.

We took a bit longer break at Parkview, the half way point. We opted for shopping at cool airconditioned supermarket rather than the kiosk on the side of the road. I refilled both my bottles and also the water bladder – all almost empty. I finished a bottle of Coke and mixed a pack of VFUEL in of my water bottles. Topped it all with one almond croissant and I was ready to continue.

We had the mostly covered sections 4 to 1 ahead. I was confident we can make it all the way as long as we control the pace. We jogged down the road to Wong Nai Chung Gap and then walked up on Black’s Link. It was mostly fast walk on this uphill. We jogged a bit on the “jungle” section then all the way down the concrete road and the steps. Once on the catchwater and the trail it was jog – walk – jog – walk mix, mostly fast walk. We took every opportunity to dip our heads under cold water. Such a big difference compared with the wet run two weeks ago …

We crossed the Wanchai Gap Road without any pause on continued on the nice undulating trail on the section 3. It is lovely runable trail but going the other way in this head one realizes that it actually is not that flat… By now I was totally focused on getting the job done with no worries at all about our pace. In my head I was telling myself to imagine I am at the late stages of 100 miler when everything hurts, legs barely move so just focus on the next step…

The last part was actually quite OK. I had ahead of me the vision of the fresh water pipe 10km from the finish. When we could we jogged (mostly on downhills) otherwise just fresh fast walk walking pace. When we reached that pipe we made good use of it, cooled down and went on. I was wondering how the next bit will feel as we had to climb up to the Peak. It did hurt but it was not as bad as it could be thanks to being in the shadow of the mountain.

We had some nice views of High West from the other side before we reached that 007 marker. From there only short climb up the road to the playground at the junction of Harlech and Lugard Roads. We took our final break there filling up our bottles from the water fountain there and went on to complete the final 2km of the round the Peak loop. We only fast walked the uphill bit but switched to proper run on the last 1km or so. Finally after 8+ hours of relentless forwards motion, heat, sweat, brutal sunshine and many cool down breaks we made it.

This was first time I completed the Hk Trail in the opposite direction. And I must say that although it is the more difficult direction it is a great summer training route. Really happy we survived that.

Link to Strava here.

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